The Density at the Center of Everything: A Conversation with Erik Stinson
Erik Stinson is a writer of short fiction and poetry, an essayist, web artist and associate copywriter. I first met him outside a bar in Williamsburg in summer 2010. We skated that night and, later, both, separately, with Miles Ross. I asked him some questions about his life and forthcoming collection of stories, Tropic Midtown, which, like all of his books, he self-published and distributes.
HTMLGiant: You’re sitting at a desk, am I right?
Erik Stinson: Yeah.
HG: How’s the view from your desk right now?
ES: I can see out the window behind me, to a courtyard on the 5th floor, some light from 23rd street via a low building. Air rights etc.
HG: Okay, so you wrote a book called Tropic Midtown. It’s stories. What made you want to write these stories?
ES: I wanted to make certain memories, and unmake others. I guess I wanted to destroy some and shape others.
HG: You write a lot about Midtown, and you work in Midtown, in advertising. You wrote essays about Midtown, talked about Midtown (I remember the sweeping sort of unclear title Midtown Skin relating to a lot of things). What attracts you so much about the place, the feeling, this neighborhood that almost every New Yorker shit talks ad nauseum?
ES: I think people hate Midtown because they understand how much it needs to exist, which is scary, to need something that much. Like the economy. I guess I see midtown as like everything. And you can actually visualize it, and go inside it like one of those early films about computers where they tried to get the art department to guess what cyberspace looked like.
HG: Do you write at work at all? Do you write in Midtown?
ES: I try not to, but I guess I write most of my essays here. I really like to write fiction at home. It’s hard to focus on fiction that is really honest, in a place so confusing and distracting as an office. The feeling is like someone is constantly looking at your screen even though you know that nobody gives a shit what you are doing as long as you get your job done.
HG: Yeah, I mean, people don’t seem to actively care about Midtown, as long as nobody is shooting a gun, then people were scared, but even the people that work there just want to get things done and get out. You find yourself coming back to it, though, almost ceaselessly it seems. At bars downtown, when you get home, etc. Why?
ES: It’s this part of the city that really must exist. There’s no way to avoid it existing. It’s the density at the center of everything and all the companies that organize the world have offices there. Because, where else would they have offices? Only the finance sector is separate, downtown, and like, this is because they are trying to escape supervision. Like, buy a private part of the island so that sector can commit sins, I guess. Everyone else is at the big party in the sky. Prom at the Parthenon.
HG: Yeah, I like how nobody goes to the Financial District except the workers and the tourists. Midtown is kind of horribly unavoidable… Everyone’s always passing through. Anyway, so how many stories are in this book?
ES: 20 stories.
HG: How many take place in Midtown?
ES: Very few of them take place in Midtown.
HG: What’s your favorite one?
ES: I don’t know.
HG: What was the hardest story to write?
ES: There’s one about a lawyer in LA visiting home in Seattle that i’m still having trouble with. It probably needs to be like way longer. There aren’t really any characters in it
HG: Why was it worth it?
ES: I’m not sure that it was. Well, there is a hunting scene at the end. And I became a vegetarian part way through writing it. Also, I had been thinking a lot about actual vampires in LA, I guess. It all distracted from what I was trying to write about, which I guess had something to do with aging comfortably. The dream of that. Being okay with shit that is really big and complicated.
HG: Sure. Anyway, you recently moved pretty far east into Bushwick. What role does that play? How do you see Brooklyn and Manhattan interacting in your craft?
ES: I moved further out of town so I could have a larger apartment, for less money. Also I guess it’s quieter. I don’t mind living, like, where I don’t know anybody.
HG: It’s partially underground.
ES: Yeah. That has been the worst part. I hope i’m not like causing psychic damage to myself, my cat, girlfriend. Me being okay with it may be bad.
HG: Don’t think about it too much. You had a poetry collection, Do You Log In Here Often?, come out in December was it? I think once, or more than once, you said you didn’t want to keep writing both poetry and fiction. You wanted to decide on one. What makes you keep oscillating between the two?
ES: I have this conversation with my girlfriend where I argue that I should be writing more prose, and she’s like, ”What if you are just better at poetry,” and I’m like, ”I don’t even know.” I haven’t put effort into prose fiction like this since 2009. There was a book called, uh, i am happy that you are grappling with my life choices, which was basically written to have a dialog with people associated with Tao Lin. It was kind of part troll, part diary of my first fix months in Oakland.
HG: You’re happier with this one, though?
HG: That’s good. Broader scope now: there were three issues of an arts/literary magazine you edited that were great. What can we expect from Sense Europa, “the only European men’s magazine published in New York City?”
ES: Uh, I just don’t feel like working on that right now. I need to figure out a way to finance parts of it so I can pay contributors more. I want to do a magazine where I pay, like, an insane amount per word. I want to do a lit magazine that pays writers the same per word fee I get for writing a tagline, which might be something like $1000/word.
HG: You’d get a lot of submissions.
ES: Yeah, that’s the other thing: I wouldn’t take submissions unless I could print everyone one in some form. Maybe not at 1000/word, but for some fair amount of money for the effort. Maybe there would be like a legal penalty for submitting shit.
HG: I’m right there with you. And a novel?
ES: For me? Probably. I hired a graphic designer for the cover of a novel I said I would have ready to take to an agent in early 2014, but who knows. I like the idea of having a pitch ready. That looks fucking cool.
HG: Who took the photo for Tropic Midtown’s cover?
ES: It’s stolen from something. I won’t say what.
HG: It looks good.
ES: It’s based on a design for a novel cover I did in 2011.
HG: Anything else? just say it for the fans.
ES: Vote with your wallet.
HG: Is the future good or bad?
ES: Not bad enough to be paralyzed with fear and anxiety. The wine still pours. There are still beautiful days, friends, family.
HG: Friends? Not everyone has friends.
ES: Family in the large sense, friends in the small sense.
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Order Tropic Midtown here
Release party invitation here